Minister Darryl Cherry: Man On Fire

A Gospel Rarity: Actual Conviction

I’m sure part of the reason I don’t listen to much Gospel music is that most of what I am hearing is just awful. To me, it all sounds like people in search of a vision. So much Gospel music these days sounds like a grab-bag of warmed-over riffs stolen from much better records. The albums lack coherent focus: they don’t add up to anything, and the track order is just kind of thrown together like a tossed salad. The old mono James Cleveland Savoy albums had a kind of story to them: you could drop the needle on track one and just let James work. These days, you get nearly twice the music, but maybe half the conviction. They don’t know what to say and, musically, they don’t have a cohesive arc that moves us from one place to the next. We learn nothing. We are not challenged to change or to want to know Jesus more. It’s all just Tye Tribbet yelling over bad horn riffs and Kirk Franklin re-heating Patrice Rushin—whose original song was far superior to Franklin’s rehash.

Musically, the Reverend Darryl F. Cherry exists in suspension between the timeless sacred music of his late father Bennie, and the post-modern avant garde of Joe Zawinul of the jazz group Weather Report. Cherry’s affinity for classical music phrasing, learned from both his late parents (who both played), extends itself to the late Maestro Thomas Whitfield, whose own work was heavily influenced by classical music. Cherry’s Stone Soup of baroque classical, modern jazz and traditional Gospel reveals a kind of postmodern Ray Charles; a sound assembled out of body parts of dead composers yet uniquely and distinctly his own. You know a Darryl Cherry song when you hear it, when you experience the phrasing and nuance. It sounds like nothing else. Cherry's albums resonate the same hypnotic quality of the halcyon days when producers actually made albums rather than artists throwing songs at you to see what hits. Cherry's music tells stories. It draws us in, educates us, demands things of us.

I am reminded of Luther Vandross who, along with legendary bassist Marcus Miller and pianist Nat Adderly, Jr. thrilled audiences by “Lutherizing” familiar, classic pop, virtually reinventing songs we’ve known, by heart, all our lives. Vandross had a unique sound, one honed to perfection by Miller and Adderly, along with the late drummer Yogi “The Human Metronome” Horton, whose sparse, disciplined drumming became the 80’s standard of live drumming, emulated across the R&B and pop world. You knew a Luther song when you heard it. He had vision and a distinct creative voice. This, too, is Minister Darryl Cherry. Even when he is reinterpreting Twinkie Clark or a traditional devotion song we’ve sung all our lives, it is those layered dissonant chords, the inharmonics, and the sharp, edgy turns that delight him and thrill us: you know a Darryl Cherry song when you hear it.

And this is, primarily, why I don’t listen to a lot of Gospel music. Most of it is just bad. Minister Cherry’s music is so much better than virtually anything I’m hearing these days that I remain continually puzzled and annoyed that watery chicken consommé—broth with nothing in it—is being pawned off on Church Folk as “music,” while Cherry’s work—spiritually intoxicating, relevant, timeless, thick and beefy—remains a well-kept secret. I am, of course, biased out of personal friendship, but, honestly, if the music sucked, I wouldn’t put him out there like this. I know what I’m talking about: some of the very best Gospel music being produced today has his name on it.

Album Of The Year: Minister Darryl Cherry & Lincoln Heights (Alternate Cover).

A Unique Experience

It is, for me, a continuing mystery why Reverend Cherry is not among the leading names in the Gospel music industry. Having served alongside many successful artists and producers, and having published outstanding and groundbreaking music of his own, I am at a loss to explain how it is possible he remains unsigned. I will presume part of the answer is that he is unwilling to play the kind of idiotic head games people play to advance in show business. Cherry is an ordained minister with a special anointing for music ministry. He is in his best element Sunday mornings conducting the musical flow and environment of worship. His wizard’s alchemy at the Hammond console or acoustic grand notwithstanding, Cherry is keenly in tune with the move of the Holy Spirit, and has, over three decades, honed his instincts to a rare excellence. He knows exactly where the congregation is—high or low—in worship, and he deftly and seamlessly weaves those textures to lead the building into worship, to focus their hearts and minds on Jesus Christ, ultimately delivering the room to the pulpit and the hand-off to the pastor. The purpose of music ministry is to break up the hard ground, preparing hearts and tilling soil, so that both ears and minds are open and available to the spoken word. In this function, Reverend Cherry has no equal. In a positive and fruitful partnership with an anointed pastor who is in tune with the Holy Spirit, who understands Reverend Cherry’s purpose, their synergy produces a vibrant, anointed, explosive worship experience.

One of the great unsigned talents, the Reverend Darryl F. Cherry is a phenomenally gifted and highly anointed servant whose Covenant Music Ministry is home to future Gospel standards such as the anthem “He Is Holy,” R&B groove “I’m Saved,” foot-stomper “Pentecost,” and the heartbreaking ballad “Waiting For An Answer,” all from Cherry’s debut recording Covenant Live. In This Temple, Cherry’s sophomore effort with the Lincoln Heights Mass Choir, featured updated versions of a few Covenant Live selections along with new originals, “In This Temple,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Song of Deliverance,” and others. Cherry’s inspired re-working of the Twinkie Clark classic, “Expect Your Miracle,” was a show-stopper, along with the relentless, driving groove of the dynamic “Running For Jesus,” adapted from David Allen’s original composition.

Christopher J. Priest
11 December 2011

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